Remembering a Lifelong Bird Alliance of Oregon Champion – Harriet Anderson

by Ross Anderson, Dean Anderson, and Charles Milne, Development Director

Both longtime and newer members may have run into Harriet Anderson at our Sanctuary or remember her answering your call as a volunteer receptionist. She believed sincerely in our work and contributed to most, if not all, of Bird Alliance of Oregon’s most significant projects. Her last legacy was initiating the renovations and updates to Marmot Cabin, where we hold camps and Outdoor School for youth, with a considerable lead gift.

Ross, Dean, and Harriet Anderson

Harriet’s love of science started early. Her parents had a small farm in Phoenix, Arizona, in the 1930s and 1940s. Being the youngest of five children and, according to her own telling and that of her sisters, she was given much more autonomy than her siblings and free rein of the farm. She had a horse that provided transportation, and curiosity that provided motivation. She found and studied snakes, scorpions, lizards, and mammals. Some, such as scorpions and tarantulas, she kept as “pets”—much to her mother’s chagrin—but most she would observe and then let go. Those childhood experiences are what led to her lifetime love affair with science.

After graduating from Occidental with a teaching degree, she set up a teaching job in New York City, but she first visited her sister in Portland during her free summer. She knew immediately that Portland was where she wanted to be and started applying for teaching positions. When the principal at Grant High School sent a telegram with a job offer, she jumped at the chance.

Upon arrival in Portland, Harriet quickly got involved with Bird Alliance of Oregon. One of her favorite places she lived in the early 1960s was actually at Bird Alliance of Oregon! We’re not sure how it came to be, but she was offered a room in one of the original buildings, located in what is now the Wildlife Care Center. She loved the raccoons living in the attic and the wildlife surrounding her in the forest.
Some of sons Ross and Dean’s earliest childhood memories are of attending one of Portland’s Outdoor Schools. Harriet and her husband ran Camp Colton, and Harriet saw firsthand the impact Outdoor School had on Portland’s youth. That experience helped her recognize the value of the Marmot property when Bird Alliance of Oregon acquired it. She knew the mission of education could be her lasting legacy, and this led to her decision to donate the seed money to build the yurts that now house students during Bird Alliance of Oregon’s Outdoor School overnight programs.

Harriet’s passion for science stayed true to the end. In November of 2021, her sons took her on a tour of Sauvie Island Wildlife Area to see the wintering Snow Geese, Sandhill Cranes, and other waterfowl. Just days before her passing, they took a trip into the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and spent the day watching Bald Eagles and Belted Kingfishers along the Shenandoah River because she wanted to see what the birds were feeding on and doing. Her curiosity was everlasting. She passed on February 18, 2022, from complications of COVID-19. Although she is gone, her passion for science remains—in her impact on her sons’ lives and in her support of Bird Alliance of Oregon becoming what it is today.